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Legislators offer mixed message

Legislators offer mixed message

Business Council roundtable includes 4 state lawmakers 

BOLTON LANDING -- A quartet of freshmen state legislators presented a largely sympathetic ear and got some polite input from state business leaders Monday.
The annual meeting of the Business Council of New York State started Sunday and continues today with all manner of information for the business community. But for many business owners, the cost of doing business in New York state and the tangle of regulations here remains the issue of greatest interest.
Business Council Vice President Kenneth Pokalsky presided over a roundtable discussion Monday with the four legislators: Sen. Fred Akshar, a Binghamton-area Republican; Sen. Jesse Hamilton, a Brooklyn Democrat; Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter, a Syracuse Democrat; and Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston. They had a polite audience, though some murmurs of dissent could be heard as they made their points.
Each spoke about what is or could be on the agenda in the upcoming legislative session that could be of interest to the business community.
Akshar said the state’s Scaffold Law — which declares absolute employer liability for falls, regardless of employee action — has to go, drawing scattered applause.
“It will be like pushing a boulder up a mountain,” he predicted, but could happen with the same collaboration that brought about workers’ comp reform.
Walsh said public transportation and attracting/retaining workers is an even bigger issue than overtaxation and over-regulation.
“From every facet of business I speak to … it’s truly being able to identify and retain employees,” agreed Hunter.
Hamilton cited unaffordable rents for small businesses in booming Brooklyn.
Each saw obstacles to his or her own priorities.
“I like to think of doing projects and doing things holistically,” Hunter said. The Legislature, she added, doesn’t work that way.
She also added that while she is in the majority party in her house, she is an upstater, bringing sort of a black-sheep status.
Walsh, an attorney elected in November, said the transition from private sector to public has been jarring. When the Legislature is in session, she comes in each morning not knowing what’s on the agenda, which is partly due to being in the minority party, but is also just the way things work in Albany.
“We would not run our businesses this way,” she said.
The subject of consolidation of governments and services as a way to reduce costs and taxes was raised, but the legislators’ response was measured. 
Hunter said it’s important for her district, which includes the financially struggling Syracuse, but predicted it wouldn’t happen until crisis sets in.
Walsh said it was ironic and even offensive to hear Gov. Andrew Cuomo pitch municipal consolidation earlier in the day but make no mention of reduction of all the costs that state government mandates municipalities pick up.
Akshar said there are more shared services than people realize and less than there could be, recalling how, as Broome County undersheriff, he was part of an effort to consolidate law enforcement — and every community still wanted its own police department, despite potential seven-figure annual savings.
Syracuse developer Michael Falcone pressed the issue, describing the various municipal fleets of snowplows in Onondaga County, and how each stops and turns around at borders.
“I understand the political problem,” he said. “We need to do this. You should legislate this. It ought to be the law.”
Hamilton replied: “Everybody wants to keep their serfdoms.”
Another question centered on the repeal of Obamacare. Cuomo told attendees Monday morning that the latest incarnation of repeal, if passed, would be costly for New York state. Did the legislators think that would push back any mandate relief that might be in the works?
“Every single thing will be on the table,” Hunter said. “I think those discussions will be very difficult.”
Akshar, who believes government should create policies that allow the private sector to create jobs, said it will need to take a look at its priorities — bike paths and colored lights on bridges, or basic human services.
Walsh said an unpleasant surprise in her first year was learning how significant policy decisions are dumped into the budget process rather than debated on their own.
“We have to look at every dollar being spent.”

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